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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE FOLD: 2



Of what odd visions composed my dreams that night I am mercifully unaware, but I do know that I slept in a tangle with the steering wheel, horribly cramped, until the next day’s sun had risen enough to force me awake with its burn. I was immediately and almost frantically disoriented, an abnormal state for a traveler like myself, and it took several anxious moments to collect my rattled mind. In doing that I recalled an odd sensation, as if something had been moving things about within me, and had replaced them somewhat out of sorts. Shaking off this sensation, as I said, took some time, during which several situations arose that stirred such discomfort as to eclipse that lingering discord entirely.

Up to now you have listened without comment, and shown no signs of scorn or humor, but now is where this tale shall take a turn towards the mad, and I stand the risk of appearing ninety degrees slanted off track. But I hasten to urge you, listener; hear me out with that same charitable ear, and by the end of this you may be a changed person, and the Earth may yet stand some slim degree of hope.

As I said, I awoke somewhat at a mental loss, and upon unfolding my cramped limbs from behind the wheel I saw that my physical state was sadly reflective of my drowsy mind; I was not, as I had thought, on the shoulder of that fat black snake of Interstate. The road that stretched out in front and behind me was reddish hardpack, with gravel at odd spots where the countless sandstorms had let it remain. I stretched out my legs and took a few steps around the car, searching the horizon for signs of direction or omen, as either would have been a welcome guest to my otherwise unsettled mind. I found only greater puzzlement when regarding the parking job I had done with the car; it was pulled off the road at an angle of complete perpendicularity, offering no clues as to which direction I had come. The sand and dust of the tough, rutted road had been blown in the night since my passing, and all traces of tracks that the wheels might have left were erased. At this my unease rolled over in my gut, like an awakening snake swallowed whole while sleeping.

My next thought for some semblance of navigation was the sun, yet even that was proven hopeless. Before I could look from the road to the sky, I saw my shadow was spread beneath me. I confirmed the sun’s neutral position directly above. Hours would pass before it had moved enough to offer foolproof direction, and in my shaken state I could not sit and wait. A choice, then, had to be made as to which way I might strike out, and as a man of reason even when panicked I grabbed into the back seat for my binoculars.

Peering through and adjusting the sights seemed to have a focusing effect on my mind, and as I panned slowly across the flat sand towards the distant red hills I had a momentary sense of shimmering against the otherwise stable horizon. Tracking back towards the phenomenon, I saw that it seemed localized, as if caused not by the permeating heat but by something akin to evaporation. I continued to rotate my vision, trying to take in any distinction, any slight intonation of proper direction, but found only red sand and rock, the latter of which in places seemed eroded into foreign and intentional formations.

Locating nothing but a single raven that passed far off before fleeing from view, I climbed back into the sauna of the enclosed car and quickly cranked the key.

The nothingness which occurred shook me with a force that may as well have been the thunder of an angry father. Again I turned the key, feeling the parts of the ignition switch rotate with metallic friction, but without the familiar stir of the engine. The stone that my heart had become began to hurt, as if I had just swallowed a large cube of ice. I recalled with a blast a nightmare of being shot in the chest.

These thoughts of frost and crusting fear made me react to the heat with a powerful thirst, my mouth since dried in denial of the deep terror leaking from my eyes as slightest tears. That the sun had been black or the land aflame could not have added to the shock of that car when again and again it failed to start. Only my natural calm, and practiced, meditative breathing kept me from shrieking from that point on.

For indeed, a mental picture was forming, of a puzzle in which I was forced to be part, whose picture was as of yet indiscernible but whose implications in design led to impressions of chaos and blurs of pain.

Still that thirst persisted with the stale draught of mouth which only those who have slept in the desert can know, and I almost cried out when I recalled the four remaining bottles nestled on ice in the back. There was a taste of the deep malt in my mouth even before I could reach behind to unlatch the cooler. It was a hoax of my senses, which had locked on to the only saving factor in an otherwise grim situation.

It was with that imagined froth on my lips that I screamed, exploding with such recoiling horror that I felt my throat roughen and tear before that cry subsided. For when I pried the lid from the ice chest, a puff of humid vapor escaped along with a smell as faint as bones. Within that hollow, where ice should have been, there was only sand. The bottles were gone, which I proved to myself by dragging my hands frantically through that accursed red dust, over and over, as if I could stumble across them in that small container of sand. I began to laugh then, and it was that dry laugh, emitted from my lips but not my own at all, that frightened me the most.

After a long session of rest that resembled trembling paralysis, I managed to blot out the enormous and dark puzzle that loomed like a dropping shadow around me. I got out of the car, a wise enough choice as it was a literal oven within there. In a rare flash of foresight I reached back into the superheated car and retrieved the binoculars. The nearest shade was beneath the oddly eroded rock formations I mentioned earlier, so not knowing for certain which way on the road would lead out of this desolation, I struck out on foot in the direction I thought to be north.

The sun was a constant weight, at times feeling like a relentless flaming stone pressing me harder still, until I felt my legs would give or my spine would snap under its forging and furious glare. There was one point during that first long walk, what I estimate timidly as halfway, where I came to the conclusion that the sun was not moving at all, that no change had occurred in the direction of its flare nor the cast of my shadow on that blood red sand. That time was somehow suspended was the next jump in logic to make, and while I now surmise your growing skepticism, I must ask your restraint again, perhaps stronger still, to avoid casting aside all my hunches and conclusions with the natural loathing of hoax. By my tale’s end you will have given up all doubt in the implausible to steel your defense against the impossible.

Just when I had concluded that the unchanging sands were infinite, and that those increasingly odd formations were somehow forever away, I came to a place where water had long ago eroded a wash, now deep and dry, with a pebble-strewn bottom about ten feet below me. The zigzag path of the miniature canyon led roughly towards the formation I had chosen as my obligatory destination, and for a reason unknown but oddly comforting, I wanted to be below the horizon line, out of sight.

I followed that narrow for what must have been many miles, and upon occasion that lonely channel would meet with another, and branch off. Wanting to be able to backtrack in a hurry was another inexplicable notion that I valued at the time, so I remained true to the widest concourse in what proved to be a deepening, convoluted gorge.

Still, the sun was a flat fire above me.

After a time that seemed to heat and stretch with the baking day I at last found shade in a patch beneath an outcropping rock. As I fell against the cliff in a sweating pant, I gasped for the cooler, shaded air, drinking it in like thick liquid mint. Sitting until I caught my breath, I found my eyes tracing the many tracks in the sand, all sizes, and of various odd and troubling shapes. It appeared this area was utilized by an assortment of creatures, some of which left tracks I could not identify. Even the familiar marks of lizards and insects seemed to wander in an odd, almost cursive way. I had the sudden feeling of viewing but not seeing, an awareness of a whole that had yet to become tangible. I felt certain a clue to my dilemma lay hidden in the crisscrossed animal paths, that I was staring at letters yet could not read the words they collectively formed.

A scream from above shook me instantly to my feet with a handful of sand, and I hurled it immediately into the air at the source of that terrible screech. Before my eyes could distinguish it’s black form against the flare of full sun, the raven was pelted by the fine powder and burst from its perch into flight.

Thunder was my heart in a lightning cage of ribs. So great had that scare been in contrast to my previous exhausted repose that I was by comparison quite energized. Adrenaline had restored my power while robbing me of calm. Knees like loose hinges stretched me shakily to my feet, and I saw when I stood that my sweat had left a spot damp in the dust. I also saw a small pile of pebbles on the outcrop of rock where the bird had rested, and bent in to get a better look.

Not pebbles, but kernels of dried corn were piled into a tiny cairn there, a detailed and carefully stacked formation that indicated from its base the four cardinal points. I found myself thinking of small beings, and tiny secrets in the hollows they built. So great was the precision of the stack, however, that I felt certain no animal was capable of the feat. Every kernel was placed so that its smallest end pointed outward in a radial fashion, reminiscent of a starfish, or the sun.

Recalling that angry enemy summoned back the scorching heat I had in my daze entirely misplaced. My skin was growing taught, and my shoulders had begun to burn. I peered up through cracked fingers and saw that the sun was free of the tractor that held it for hours at the zenith of its passing. It was now moving, however imperceptibly, towards afternoon. Soon there would be a cooler if not comfortable climate. I smiled as I thought of that golden, late afternoon glow that was the finale of each summer day.

My smile departed, considering the lengthy shade of night.


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Archive of Stories
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